Author: Michelle Ho, ENG’14
Recently I was given the opportunity to be the student speaker at the Collaborative Classroom Open House. The Collaborative Classroom is a new classroom on the first floor of Van Pelt Library, off the hallway leading to Weigle Information Commons. From the way the classroom furniture is arranged to the cutting-edge technology in the room, the design of the Collaborative Classroom aims to facilitate active learning. In the classroom, active learning can take the form of problem solving in teams, peer reviewing written work, or delving into a case study, among other activities. To help facilitate these activities, students sit at round tables and face each other, instead of in rows where they face the professor. Each table has its own dedicated projector system where students can plug their own laptop or tablet and display what they are working on. The walls on the classroom also double as whiteboards and projection screens so you can annotate directly over what you are projecting. This semester there are nine courses such as social policy and practice, geology, and writing seminar being held in the Collaborative Classroom. Imagine how much more interactive writing seminar could be if you edited a piece by projecting it on the wall and having classmates take turn making edits by writing over it for the table to see.
So how did I get to become involved with this? Well, the Collaborative Classroom is actually a joint project between the Penn Libraries and the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education (the branch of Penn Student Government that I am a member of). The idea for the Collaborative Classroom came from two previous SCUE Chairs, Scott Dzialo and Joyce Greenbaum. Together, they envisioned that having a space like the Collaborative Classroom on campus would allow for SCUE initiatives such as problem solving learning (PSL) and the flipped classroom to be possible. Unlike previous SCUE projects like building Penn Course Review, instituting Fall Break, and implementing pass/fail grading, there were physical roadblocks – in terms of finding and configuring space – in addition to administrative and policy roadblocks.
After meeting with people across campus, the construction for the classroom was made possible by two Penn alumni, Larry Bass (W’67) and Chuck MacDonald (W’81). As one of the founding members of SCUE, the Bass family embraced the idea of the Collaborative Classroom and saw it as a way to commit to SCUE and the Penn Libraries. The MacDonald family matched this gift and also made possible an Innovation Fund to support the classroom. The Open House was a way to thank the donors and also show off the classroom to faculty and students. As Mr. Bass and his family were able to attend the Open House, it was a fantastic opportunity for SCUE members to meet one of the founding members of our organization and get a front-row perspective about the history of our organization. The generosity and input of the Bass family has shown that participation in any extracurricular opportunity at Penn doesn’t have to end with graduation. At SCUE in particular, we have been inspired to start an Alumni Newsletter and plan alumni get-togethers. Moving forward, we are excited to collaborate with the Library and also faculty members to develop more courses for the Collaborative Classroom. Of course, we are also looking forward to working more with our alumni!